The most visited attractions in California second to Disneyland – Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Trying to decide which is better? Both are very amazing and unique, so it all comes down to your style. As Tom C. Wark once said, “Napa Valley is a Wine Disneyland, while Sonoma Valley is a Wine Region.” (Fermentation: The Daily Blog). The world of wine can really be a playful or serious quest for adults. With Napa and Sonoma being America’s main wine attractions, tourists have two different ways of experiencing what we think is the happiest beverage on earth.
In Napa or Sonoma, you’re getting two totally different experiences. You can head on over to Napa in a limo, as the scene glimmers with Michelin stars and 95+ point ratings, or you can drive down a dirt road in Sonoma to a casual, cozy outdoor patio with inexpensive, and sometimes free, wine tastings.
Here we point out the differences between Sonoma and Napa, from the wines they do best, to what it’s like to visit each region. Curious yet? Let’s get started!
6. Which one is the most cost-effective?
According to Wine Folly, while the average cost per person/per day at Napa is $460, Sonoma has an average cost per person/day of $292. Price is probably the most obvious comparison point between Napa and Sonoma. Of course, you can easily enjoy staying in 5-star hotels, eating incredible multi-course meals, and spending all-day tasting wine in the winemaker’s private cellars in Sonoma, too. On that note, it’s entirely possible to keep things a little more affordable by renting a bike to ride to small family wineries, grab lunch at a roadside diner, and pitch a tent under the California stars in Napa. Whatever floats your wine loving boat.
5. About Napa Wineries
There are 390 physical wineries which produce over 1,000 brands of wine in Napa Valley. The region is 43,000 acres and its most famous wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot. An average wine tasting here will set you back between $15 to $50 and you should call ahead as many tasting rooms require appointments. Be aware that each tasting will cost you, but a few places waive the tasting fee for you if you buy a bottle.
4. Getting to and staying in Napa Valley
Drinking and driving is always a no-no, but fortunately there are a lot of great ways to get around. Hire a limo for the day, choose a designated driver, take the Napa Valley Wine Train, or fly up in a hot air balloon! The top wine routes are Highway 29, which is the main route, and The Silverado Trail, which is where you’ll find the most prestigious wineries. In regards to traffic, it can be heavy and slow-moving with all the tourists, so be patient. The best time to visit would be in May to avoid the summer crowds, or September through October for delightful weather.
Check out Auberge de Soleil, The Poetry Inn, or Milliken Creek Inn & Spa for lodging and French Laundry, Oxbow, or Bouchon for amazing food.
3. Sonoma Wineries
Imagine more wine and more country. Napa may be more expensive, but Sonoma is certainly more expansive. It’s almost double the size of Napa, and grows far more grapes than Napa in a variety of conditions. People come from all over the world to sip Sonoma’s zesty Chardonnay, cool climate Pinot Noir, juicy Zinfandel, impressive Red Blends, and refreshing Sparkling Wines.
Here you’ll find 450 wineries ranging from small wineries to top producers. It’s a total of 70,000 acres and its best wines are Chardonnay (unoaked), Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Red Blends, and Sparkling Wine. While you’re there you can expect the wine tasting cost to be an average between $15 to $25. And just like Napa, make sure to call ahead to see if you need to make an appointment.
2. Getting to and staying in Sonoma
Since everything is very spread out, rent a bike in the town to focus on the wineries there or rent a car and choose between two to three wineries to visit that are relatively close. Remember to spit when tasting if you’re driving. The top wine routes are Sonoma Valley for reds and sparkling wines, Dry Creek for Zins, Russian River Valley for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and finally, Alexander Valley for elegant Merlots and Cabs. As for traffic, it’s not quite as bad as Napa, but you’ll certainly run into it, especially on the highways and if there’s an event at the Sonoma Raceway. The best time to tackle Sonoma would be in May or September through October, just like Napa Valley.
Think about staying at The Healdsburg Hotel, The Kenwood Spa, or Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. When out to eat, great places are Farmhouse Inn, Madrona Manor, Mateo’s, and Terra.
1. So which one do you pick?
It’s all about your personal style and what you like best. As your wine tastes change, so will your preference for Sonoma or Napa. The only thing we insist on is that you visit both valleys at some point. Still don’t know how to decide? Maybe spend a couple days in both places.